When the government approved the Mendelblit plan for the new pluralistic section of the Kotel on January 31, I was skeptical that implementation would go as smoothly as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assured us it would.
First, this is Israel, and nothing goes off without a hitch. How long did it take to build the light rail in Jerusalem?
And second, with this shaky coalition that is comprised of very greedy and reactionary special interest parties, there is very little movement forward on most issues. On religious issues, there have been great leaps backwards. When an Israeli soldier is hung in effigy in Mea Shearim, it is very clear that something is very wrong in Jerusalem.
The concerns that I wrote about in my blog: A vision of Kotel future: part two, were unfortunately right on. The administrator of the Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz has denounced the plan to create the third section of the Kotel, even though he was part of the negotiating team that created it. What he is looking to do instead, is to get the Haredi MKs to sponsor legislation that will nullify the 2013 Sobel court ruling and banish Women of the Wall and other women’s groups or individuals from praying in the women’s section. He seems to have no qualms about keeping the extra 25 million that went into his budget as a concession to his agreeing to support the new section.
The Minister of Religious Affairs David Azoulay has refused to implement the compromise; but this is a man who doesn’t believe that anything less than the 200-year-old ultra-Orthodox rigid set of beliefs can be considered Judaism.
Both United Torah Judaism and Shas have both threatened to leave the coalition if the plan, which includes governance by WoW and the liberal movements is implemented. It is unlikely, that these parties who saw their perks disappear under the last coalition that they were not in, would actually leave. Netanyahu could easily call their bluff but he is choosing not to.
On Sunday, he issued this statement: “Approximately two months ago, the Cabinet decided to implement the recommendations of the advisory committee on prayer arrangements at the Western Wall. Since then, several difficulties have arisen. We are working to resolve them. I would like to reiterate my commitment to resolve the issue of prayer arrangements at the Western Wall in the aforesaid direction.”
According to an article in the March 28 Forward, the government is appointing David Sharan to re-negotiate the deal and to present a new plan within 60 days. A plan that would appease the Haredim and remove any sliver of official recognition of the liberal movements in Israel.
The negotiating partners are obviously not accepting a new round of negotiations in this never ending story of the refusal of the state to recognize non-Orthodox Judaism. Yitzar Hess, the executive director of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel said, “This [decision not to implement the plan] would be a strategic, fatal, and unprecedented blow to the status of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”
Shira Pruce, the communications director of WoW said: “altering this agreement in any way will not be acceptable to Women of the Wall. This agreement came at great effort and sacrifice and represents hope for women’s equality and empowerment in Israel. Downgrading these minimal requirements for equality at the Western Wall sends the wrong message to women and girls.”
The Mendelblit plan represents the first real step toward the recognition of religious pluralism and the inclusion of women’s religious rights in Israel. Anything less is just a continuation of the never ending story of ceding the control of Judaism to the narrow minded extremists who believe that only they hold the keys to the kingdom. I say no to Haredi control of religion in Israel and no to new negotiations. Netanyahu should keep his word.